You wonder sometimes why some decisions are made in the NBA, what possibly might motivate ownership and the front office to sign a free agent, make a trade – hire a head coach.
Of all the major sports, the NBA likely is the most challenging for the guy in charge. Most of its players are egotistical multi-millionaires with their own ideas about what their value is and how they should be utilized and treated. Discipline is an objective, not a guarantee.
Let’s put it this way: A coach walks a precarious path in the NBA. He is as reliant on the good will and cooperation of his players as he is his own intellect and acumen.
So what do you think convinced the Cleveland Cavaliers to hire John Beilein before the start of this season? And how do you think they are feeling today after coming to terms to end his reign barely more than a half-season into what was supposed to be a five-year stay?
Did you know that over the last 30 years, only three men have coached their first NBA game and not made through their first season? Think Jerry Tarkanian and the 1992-93 San Antonio Spurs.
When you think about it, Beilein and Tarkanian actually had a lot in common. They were successful NCAA coaches who came to the NBA well past their prime. Tarkanian was 62 years old when he took over the Spurs and he lasted only 20 games before he was fired. Beilein was 66 when he left Michigan to take over the Cavs and he was out after 54 games.
Although Tarkanian’s problems were mostly with team ownership, he and Beilein didn’t represent a generational gap as much as a cavern. Neither had any chance to relate to their players in terms of life or basketball.
The Cavaliers are now promoting associate head coach J.B. Bickerstaff. League sources told ESPN he will run his first practice Wednesday evening. He will be the Cavs sixth coach in the past seven seasons. Good luck. The Cavaliers are 14-40 and sinking faster than a rock in a fishbowl in the Eastern Conference. Only the Golden State Warriors have a worse record.
Do you think they wish they still had Tyronn Lue around instead of dumping him six games into the 2018 season?
ESPN is reporting Beilein and the team have negotiated a financial settlement that will pay him a part of what he is still owed for the 2019-20 season. He was scheduled to make $4 million a year.
The idea Beilein would be a successful NBA coach was flawed from the start. Aside from the communication difficulties, the Cavalier players obviously disagreed with most of his strategic initiatives. And according to reports, Beilein made no friends by deciding he could treat pros like college kids, even though some are similar in age.
There was also somewhat of a disconnect with the front office. Apparently, Beilein didn’t fully buy into the idea the Cavaliers were a rebuilding team. Because of that, he wasn’t invested enough in developing his younger players. He wanted to win now.
Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman, whose reputation will take a serious beating for this, came to grips with the idea Beilein was a failure before the league’s All-Star break. Word came out the two were talking about a amicable ending after initially thinking they could survive the season.
Beilein was a college coach for 40 years, his best years at Michigan. He was beloved and respected in the arena. He has a career record of 571-325 and made the NCAA tournament in his last four seasons at Michigan, including a Final Four appearance in 2017-18.
He could have easily coached into his 70s without much of a blow back from Wolverines boosters.
So he’s as much to blame for the debacle as the Cavaliers are and you can only imagine how long ago he had realized he’d made the worst professional blunder of his career.
Beilein had to know the end was coming in January when he stupidly – he says mistakenly – referred to his players as “no longer playing as a bunch of thugs.” You don’t need a sociology degree to understand the implication of saying something like that to an NBA team.
Beilein immediately apologized, saying he had incorrectly chosen the word – thugs instead of slugs. Some of his players said they understood and had their coach’s back. But it was probably already too late to save the situation by then. Beilein was in over his head.
Let’s review: The players didn’t care for his coaching style. He and Tristan Thompson exchanged words on the bench during a game in San Antonio. Unrest as been brewing between the Cavaliers and Kevin Love all season. And then there was the thugs/slugs incident.
Beilein should have never been hired by the Cavaliers and too bad for them if this mistake haunts them for the next few years. They were ill-suited for each other – oil and water.
Let’s hope their next coach isn’t also old enough to collect social security.